Research team sinks museum’s claim of Endeavour identity as ‘premature’

By Jackson Graham

February 4, 2022

A federally operated museum says it can identify a shipwreck off Rhode Island as Captain James Cook’s Endeavour. (katatonia/Adobe)

A federally operated museum says it can identify a shipwreck off Rhode Island as Captain James Cook’s Endeavour, sparking a backlash from US-based archeologists, who reject the claim as “premature” and a “breach of contract”. 

Australian National Maritime Museum director Kevin Sumption said archival and archaeological evidence had confirmed the wreck was the Endeavour. 

“I am satisfied that this is the final resting place of one of the most important and contentious vessels in Australia’s maritime history,” he said in a statement on Tuesday. 

“Since 1999, we have been investigating several 18th century shipwrecks in a two square mile area where we believed that Endeavour sank; however, the last pieces of the puzzle had to be confirmed before I felt able to make this call.” 

Sumption paid tribute to the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project in his statement, but shortly afterwards the RIMAP released its own statement claiming there was insufficient evidence to identify the wreck. 

“The Australian National Maritime Museum report that the Endeavour has been identified is premature,” the RIMAP said. 

“The ANMM announcement today is a breach of the contract between RIMAP and the ANMM for the conduct of this research and how its results are to be shared with the public.” 

The British vessel famously landed in eastern Australia in 1770. From 1768 to 1771 it voyaged to the South Pacific, primarily to record the transit of Venus in Tahiti in 1769.

It was later renamed Lord Sandwich and deliberately sunk in 1778 by British forces in Newport Harbor, during the American War of Independence.

The RIMAP statement said the shipwreck in question was “consistent with what might be expected” of the vessel. 

“But there has been no indisputable data found to prove the site is that iconic vessel, and there are many unanswered questions that could overturn such an identification,” it said. 

The RIMAP is the lead organisation on a study of the wreck and says it will post the findings of “the legitimate report” to its website. 

“RIMAP recognises the connection between Australian citizens of British descent and the Endeavour, but RIMAP’s conclusions will be driven by proper scientific process and not Australian emotions or politics.” 

However, the museum says there are several key points to identify the wreck as the Endeavour, including historical evidence of the sunken ship’s location, its size, the length of the hull, timber samples and other structural details. 

“We are currently in the process of finalising our report on the site and are looking forward to that report being peer-reviewed and published in due course,” Sumption said. 

“The archaeological work continues, and we anticipate further discussion of the evidence over the coming months. We look forward to continuing the work in Rhode Island as we move to the next phase.”


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